As far as husbands go, I am one of the lucky ones. I
know my other half loves me. I know this because of all the many ways he shows
me, one of which is, in fact, saying it out loud.
So I have nothing to complain
about, which he has been known to remind me right in the middle of my
complaining about something he did wrong. Like putting an entire
bag of chips on the table, or explaining something to me in a way that sounds
like he thinks I'm stupid (something Rebecca Solnit ingeniously describes as
"mansplaining," in her book "Men Explain Things To Me") or not throwing a parade in the kitchen after I have cooked a meal.
You could also argue, as the
very popular New York City-based pastor Tim Keller does in his bestselling book, which he
wrote with his takes-no-guff-wife Kathy of 38 years, that I am simply the
victim of something most couples fall prey to nowadays … wait for it…unrealistic
expectations. In Keller's book, he writes, "Modern people make the
painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it
under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations."
I am not a Christian, but
"cosmically impossible expectations" of my husband some days sounds
pretty spot on. OK, I get it. Expecting too much from our mates can pose
a serious threat to marriage. But exactly how do you define too much?
In thinking about this question,
I thought back on dating in my 20s— how it was very in vogue at the
time to make a list of what you were looking for in your man. Like applying
"The Secret" to your search for a mate. The thinking was that, if you get specific about
what you want in a mate, you will manifest this person. So you'd sit down with
a pen and paper. Sometimes girlfriends would share these lists, which would
inevitably be some be version of this:
2.. Really successful at his job
3. Always makes me a priority
5. Cutthroat in business
6. Loves his mother
7. Wears nice shoes
8. Is sensitive and a good
9. Thick lips
10. Loves to cook
11. More ambitious than Hillary
12. Never lies to me
To have a happy life and a happy marriage, you have to replace whatever the marriage equivalent is of that insane list of expectations from your dating years with a simple list of all the qualities you appreciate about your darling husbands or wives.
Here's what we all learned from
these lists, the burning of which allowed us to actually find a real mate with
whom we could procreate and start a family. We learned that the breadth of these expectations
were ridiculous. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, it eventually
became clear that the person "visualized" above does not exist in
human form. Or, if by chance you find him, he is not interested in the female
And yet. Even more than 13 years in to my marriage, sometimes I and my friends are still guilty of crazy,
conflicting expectations of our flesh-and-blood, straight male husbands. Some examples: "I love how we can shut the world out and talk to
each other at the end of a long day. But then some nights I feel like, for God's
sake, can we please just stop with all the intense talks? Can we just be stupid
shallow fools, for ONCE?"
Or, "I love how responsible
you are with money, honey, and always thinking about IRAs and other acronyms
for financial planning that I didn't even know existed. But do we have talk
through every expenditure? Can't we just go nuts and buys some crazy shit
sometimes? But not on credit, of course, because I hate credit card debt."
Or, "I love that you're so
committed to working out and you're dealing with your high cholesterol and
keeping yourself healthy but, wow, it certainly takes up a lot your time!"
Sometimes my thinking about my
husband reminds me of all the men I dated before him who always wanted a
skinny, slightly wacky, creative chick and then couldn't believe I lived on
lettuce (days of yore, my friends) and tended to be kind of morose when I wasn't
in front of people. "I thought you were funny," they'd lament. This is
the other side of funny, I'd think, not so pretty. Tod was the first man I
found who didn't seem fazed by my "artistic," shall we say, temperament. He didn't expect the slightly manic gal he met in a comedy club to also be good
at a corporate dinner party, have a perfectly organized desk or be left alone
with a bag of granola.
It's been said a zillion times, mostly as part of the working vs. non-working
mommy wars in the motherhood space, and it bears repeating: you don't get it all. Here's the deal in the relationships space: it's true
about a spouse, too.
That's why it's very important
to discipline yourself to take stock of what you do get. To have a happy life
and a happy marriage, you have to replace whatever the marriage equivalent is of
that insane list of expectations from your dating years with a simple list of
all the qualities you appreciate about your darling husbands or wives.